Nelson Mandela will be celebrated principally for the dignity with which he emerged onto the world stage after decades in prison and for the forgiveness that he displayed towards his former enemies in forging a democratic, multi-racial South Africa from the poisoned legacy of apartheid.As a global statesman of grace and humility, he was long courted by western leaders drawn by his irresistible story of triumph over tyranny. Yet Mandela, who died on December 5 at age 95, was also a more radical and politically complex figure than has been commonly acknowledged by his admirers in the west.
Peter Hain can still recall vividly the morning in 1972 when South African secret agents intended to kill him with a letter bomb sent to his home in London.“Suddenly, in the middle of the family breakfast table was this terrifying, grotesque mixture of terminals and wires,” Hain told Al Jazeera. “We just sat there transfixed, and nothing happened. The police said we had been very lucky because there was a problem with the trigger mechanism.”
London, United Kingdom – “What will he sing, Tony? What will Nelson Mandela sing?”Even a quarter of a century on, Tony Hollingsworth sounds incredulous as he remembers the conversation with a Los Angeles-based music industry agent about the concert he was organising to mark the 70th birthday of the then-jailed South African icon.
By 1988, Mandela had been in prison for 26 years, yet word of his plight had not yet reached the more sheltered corners of the entertainment industry on California’s sunny shores.
“You have to remember that a lot of people still didn’t know who Mandela was,” Hollingsworth told Al Jazeera, recalling the buildup to the June 11, 1988, London concert watched by a global television audience of 600 million.
Many campaigners credit the show with doing more to raise awareness about Mandela’s struggle against apartheid in South Africa in a single day than anything else in the decades-long struggle against racist rule.